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Photo: ©Tim De Waele | Getty Images

Tearful Quintana waves goodbye to Movistar

The Colombian star was feeling nostalgic as he is set to begin the next decade with a new team and new challenges to reassert himself.

Nairo Quintana bid a tearful goodbye to his Movistar team over the weekend, with the Colombian star already eyeing a possible invitation to next year’s Vuelta a España.

That’s how much Quintana’s sporting life is going to change in the next few weeks.

The Colombian branch of the Movistar-Telefónica offices in Bogotá paid homage over the weekend to Quintana’s long run at the Spanish WorldTour team. With his move to the French Professional Continental outfit Arkea-Samsic for 2020, it was Quintana’s last goodbye.

“We’ve had a lot of beautiful memories together,” Quintana told a packed house. “Not only for the Movistar team, but for Colombian cycling.”

Quintana’s high-profile exit from Movistar for the French outfit will have implications for everyone. Now racing at the second-tier league, Quintana won’t have automatic bids to race in anywhere he wants. Instead, the team will have to count on invitations to get into some of the major races. With its heavy French tilt, a spot in the Tour de France is all but assured. The other grand tours will have to wait. After seeing a climb-heavy Vuelta course unveiled last week in Spain, Quintana has already said he’d like to race the Spanish grand tour.

“I like the route,” Quintana said. “The initial plan is to be there, but that depends on the organization and its director, Javier Guillén.”

Quintana would like to return to the Vuelta in 2020, but his new team will have to earn an invite. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Guillén is already under pressure on how to dole out his wild-card spots. With the WorldTour expanding to 19 in 2020, the grand tours are feeling pinched. The Giro d’Italia, facing the same problem, found some breathing room when wild-card guarantee Total Direct Energie said it would bypass on its automatic spot in the Italian grand tour. That gives the Italians three wild-card spots to hand out.

So far, Total Direct Energie has indicated it will exercise its right to race the Vuelta, which is claimed after finishing atop the Professional Continental team rankings in 2019. That leaves Guillén with only two spots to consider. With three Spanish Professional Continental teams clamoring for a spot to race the Vuelta, it won’t be easy for Quintana to earn a place in the Spanish grand tour. Even budding superstar Mathieu Van der Poel, who has not hidden his ambition to race the Vuelta next year with his Corendon-Circus team, might be squeezed out.

Quintana’s move to Arkea-Samsic will have other implications as well. Though Quintana will race in the Colombian national championships in January, he will not compete in the popular Tour Colombia 2.1 in February, instead making his season debut in team colors on French soil at the Tour de la Provence and Tour du Haut-Var in February.

Quintana will also race in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya as well as across the Ardennes classics, where he’s only raced twice in his career, with a best 16th in the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Quintana will likely race the Critérium du Dauphiné in June before a return to the Tour. The Tokyo Olympic Games are also on his tentative calendar, though it will be a highly competitive field to earn one of Colombia’s five starting positions.

Quintana’s move to Arkea-Samsic means he will race in France rather than race on home roads at Tour Colombia. Photo: Iri Greco / BrakeThrough Media | www.brakethroughmedia.com

Quintana’s exit also leaves a hole in Movistar. Since joining the team in 2012, Quintana quickly emerged as a guarantee in nearly every raced he started. Though he did not win the Tour, Quintana won the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, and hit the Tour podium three times. Though he wasn’t in podium-challenging form in the past three editions of the Tour, he still delivered stage wins in 2018 and 2019.

Along with the departures of Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos), Movistar will be counting on Alejandro Valverde as well as emerging talents Enric Mas and Marc Soler to fill the gap.

And as he turns 30 in February, Quintana felt the time was right for a change. With Egan Bernal making history as the first Colombian to win the Tour de France, the ever-proud Quintana knows he needs to step up.

Over the weekend, Quintana was feeling nostalgic and effusively thanked everyone within the Movistar organization for its support. Though there were reports of tension between Movistar and Quintana over the past few seasons, Quintana left with a warm glow.

“Over the years I climbed many difficult steps,” he said. “For me it was never easy. I’ve worked since I was a child and I fought to thrive and survive, and luckily I found a home at Movistar.”

A highlight video reeled off Quintana’s many milestones and achievements during his run in the Movistar “blue,” and though it’s set to end with his three-year contract to join Arkea-Samsic, Quintana was thankful.

“It moves me to think of everything that’s happened and it brings me to tears,” he said. “For me it’s very hard to be here today, but it’s not a goodbye, but rather a ‘see you soon.'”

With that, Quintana was leaving the door open perhaps for a return to Movistar in the future. As of now, the Movistar chapter of his sporting career is over. It’s time for new beginnings, both for Quintana and Movistar, each taking different paths into the next decade.